Your memories are time stamps of history.
The problem is your memories are stored in your mind, and it isn’t very good at remembering. Yes, your mind has a lot to hold onto, so it tends to skimp on the detail. And that’s not good.
It’s the details that get lost.
Like a helicopter pilot flying at 10,000 feet, the ground becomes small and only the biggest buildings, roads, and landmarks remain visible. The ground blurs into a sea of green pastel colours. Homes are smudges on the landscape.
Your memories suffer the same fate.
Instead of altitude, it’s time and your mind’s biases fading your memories.
Recency bias means we favour memories of more recent times over older ones. Hindsight bias helps us adjust memories to make them more favourable to the circumstances of the moment. Outcome bias delivers the memories that most delight or horrify us—again depending on the moment we recall the thought in our minds.
And then there is the ever-growing age gap between then and now.
They combine to create fallacies of what we remember. It is the fallacy within our memories that makes the greatest argument for keeping a journal.
Memories Lie, Journals Don’t
According to Oliver Burkeman, we’re here for 4000 weeks.
In years, that’s the rather wholesome number of eighty. It contains a lot of memories. The problem is that we can’t remember them all.
You can try, but you’ll fail.
But what if you could pick up a book or open a webpage and read entries made at any time from your past.
It would be amazing to look back and see the notes you made on your eighteenth birthday. You might have been at a restaurant, or a nightclub—or even at work. Maybe you celebrated with a cup of tea rather than a bottle of fizz.
Whatever the occasion, there is no blurring from our biases when we can read about it in a journal.
One completed every single day—even if it’s just a few lines. Imagine pages of facts, tied to dates and events and how you felt about them. Think of the decisions you’ve made. Think of the moments of crisis, the moments of happiness, and the time's luck graced your path—or didn’t.
Yes, that would be truly magical.
Magical, yes. Achievable?
What Do You Miss by Not Journaling?
I’m late to the party. I’m at the 63% bar of my 4000 weeks.
As a teenager, I didn’t keep a journal.
I have distorted memories from my teenage years. There are some photos buried in an old suitcase in the attic, but it rarely appears. I did so much—but remember so little.
My situation doesn’t improve with age.
In my twenties, I didn’t keep a journal.
An engagement, a marriage, two children, new homes, new pets, passing grandparents, jobs and promotions, but no journal.
In my thirties, I didn’t keep a journal.
A marriage matured, kids grew, new homes, new pets, new jobs and old jobs, but no journal.
In my forties, I didn’t keep a journal.
A big job loss, a new job, another old job, children becoming teenagers and then adults, and a move to a new country, but no journal.
I missed a lot.
There were some huge decisions in there, but I’ve no record of how I made them. The big three decisions—the ones where I decided what I would do, where I would live, and who I would be with were made in my twenties.
Of course, I have memories—who doesn’t. Could I tell you my motives, my process for making the biggest decisions of my life? No, I can’t.
Any statement I make now about those choices is biased by the outcome, my hindsight and the fading of time. That’s the fallacy of memories.
It’s what I lost by not journaling.
The Journal of Your Life
That’s the dream.
I wish I had a journal of my life.
All the great things that have happened to me. All the bad times I’ve endured and overcome. The wisdom such memories can deliver.
That’s what I wish I had.
It is what I want you to have.
The purpose of any journal is to record history. Your history. What it gives you are your memories. Unscathed from the fading of time or the blurring of biases, a journal gives you an unvarnished truth from the big and small moments in your life.
It is the most compelling argument I can make.
No amount of Facebook memories or looking at your wall on Instagram can give you what a journal does.
A picture tells a story. But it doesn’t pull the story apart or explain how the narrative came into being. You have to remember. Yes, you can try and recall the decisions you made, or the motivation to make the choices you made.
But it won’t even be close to what a journal can give you.
So, whether you’re 20% (16) or 63% (48) through your 4000 weeks, start a journal today and escape the fallacy within your memories.